There’s no wrong time to think about what should be done with your assets in the unfortunate event of your death, and doing so as soon as possible can relieve a great deal of the stress–and financial burden–thrust upon your family if the worst should happen. If you’ve already done this planning, then that’s great–but that’s not what probate is. So what exactly is probate, and how is it used to facilitate the transfer of wealth from person to person?
You might have heard of estate planning, which is essentially the aforementioned planning stage. It takes place before the worst happens, while the probate process takes place after. The process can be quick and painless over a few months, or it can be a gruelingly slow process that takes place over years. If estate planning has already been done, then chances are probate will be streamlined. If not, then your family is in for the long haul if they’d like to see your assets divided fairly among potential heirs.
There are a number of things you might want to know about the probate process for future reference. First and foremost, you’ll often hear all about the estate tax. It’s been in the news a lot in 2017 because a key part of the initial Republican tax reform plan was the axing of this tax. Most people who draw up a last will and testament need not worry about the estate tax. In order for this tax to be administered, your assets need to add up to over $5,450,000. If you’re married, the figure is doubled.
As part of the planning process, you will designate an executor. This person retains a responsibility to divide and transfer your assets in the way you intended. If you died without a plan in place, then these responsibilities instead fall to an administrator.
During the probate process, you may hear a number of words with which you’re unfamiliar. The “testator” is a term for the person whose will is to be executed. In the case that no will had been drafted by the deceased, that person died “intestate.”
If you’re studying up on these subjects, then you might often hear about a number of other practice areas that fall under this umbrella of the law. Tax law is a given. If you own a large estate, then tax law is an important subject to cover with your estate planning lawyer. Elder law governs how the needs of an estate and testator might change as clients age. If you hold assets in real estate, then these laws come into play as well.
If you’re an heir about to receive an inheritance, it’s essential you know these definitions. If you’re in the process of planning for the distribution of your own estate, then you will need to find an estate planning lawyer who is qualified to discuss these matters with you and the designated executor when the time comes. Estate planning and estate administration are technically separate practice areas within the law, but lawyers often practice both because of how fluent they’re required to be in both anyway.